Congratulations to Alison Marsden on being appointed today to take over from Tony Close (who suddenly resigned on 22 April and moved to a senior job at Facebook) as Ofcom’s new Director of Content Standards. As I know from working with her at Ofcom, Alison is a very capable woman and I am sure she will be a great success in her new role.
Her appointment has however raised some eyebrows in Ofcom (and may do elsewhere). Tony Close only resigned just over three weeks ago.
Clearly Ofcom wished to fill Tony Close’s shoes urgently with the regulator facing a number of challenges in the content standards area. These include taking rapid action against broadcasters putting out fake news about covid-19 (only today Ofcom imposed a sanction on the religious channel Loveworld for news and a sermon making potentially harmful claims concerning coronavirus), and deciding soon on what new protections Ofcom should impose on broadcasters to protect adults (Ofcom needed to change tack on this issue following a critical response from broadcasters to its original proposals).
The job of Director of Content Standards was not advertised externally and, I gather from reliable sources within Ofcom, not even advertised internally. Ali was, it seems, simply appointed to this important role both as Director of Content Standards and to Ofcom’s Content Board. Ali may well have been the outstanding internal candidate, but some may wonder if more transparency was called for?
Meanwhile, I wish Alison the best of luck in her new job. It is a difficult one balancing the interests of the public against those of the broadcasters, and it is easy to forget that sometimes the best course of action for the regulator is to resist intervention.
I hope that Ali puts a comprehensive review of the Broadcasting Code towards the top of her agenda. It was first introduced in 2005. It has been amended and lengthened in the fifteen years since – but never shortened or simplified with for example unnecessary rules being pruned or removed. The broadcasting landscape has changed dramatically since 2005. It is time for a fresh look at the Code to confirm whether it is still fit for purpose in its current form.